Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Costa Concordia accident

Yes, I'm back with more thoughts on this...mostly because I keep reading these news stories where passengers claim the crew members weren't trained in safety procedures - which I can guarantee you isn't true. One passenger apparently told "Good Morning America" that "no one knew how to help because they were never trained. That is the cruise ship's fault." In that same story, another passenger said, "crew members apparently had little training in how to operate the lifeboats," while a Reuters story comments, "There were around 1,020 crew from 38 nations on board but many were entertainers or catering staff rather than seasoned mariners."

As I said in the last post, per international maritime guidelines, all crew members, regardless of position, were trained week in and week out. (However, the specialty entertainers - comedians, magicians, etc - which never usually numbered more than five people at a time had passenger status, but they were usually only onboard for a couple of weeks at most at a time.) In my experience in the most recent years, the lifeboat teams lowered their boats at least once every two weeks (since crew drills were always conducted in port, only one side could ever be lowered). I don't think it's fair to say that Costa was negligent in their training or crew members were clueless - rather, it's that you can never adequately prepare for an accident of this magnitude. While it appears that the captain has a lot to answer for, that is the fault of just one individual, and human behavior like this is something that can never really be prevented or trained for.

But this is the most important point: Crew safety drills are conducted on a steady ship, in port, in the daylight, without 2,000+ passengers running around. The Costa Concordia accident happened in the evening (presumably when it was dark or getting dark, since it was dinnertime), the lights went out and the ship started leaning. With the ship leaning like that, you can't lower the lifeboats because of the way the mechanism works; it would also be hard to load the rafts and get them down. (The rafts are stored in these round canisters, and you can unhook them and drop them into the ocean, where they will open when submerged in salt water - but then that also means people have to jump overboard to get into them if a Deck Three door isn't open and available.) I'm not surprised the crew members didn't know what to do in that situation, and apparently there wasn't a lot of information coming out of the PA system from those in command, but you can't really say the crew was ill-trained. There's just no way to prepare for something like that - you cannot simulate that environment with any frequency - and I'm sure the actual event was 1,000 times more horrifying than any of the rest of us can imagine.

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